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Reel life adventure

Action takes place in array of locales as Victoria film fest expands horizons

Size doesn't matter. It's innovation and content that count. And having it seen by as many eyeballs as possible.

That was a prevailing theme at Lucky Bar last night as 200 film buffs gathered for an offbeat "pre-fest bash" marking the start of the countdown to the 2009 Victoria Film Festival that unspools from Jan. 30-Feb. 8.

It was a sign of changing times that in contrast to past years when most attention was focused on a stage and screen at the far end of the nightspot, the imagery was on the move -- on roaming screens of all shapes and sizes, including within old hand-cranked Fisher-Price projectors.

Indeed, the launch of the 15th annual festival lived up to its slogan: Bring Film to Life.

This was amusingly obvious when the host, A News personality Adam Sawatsky, noting he was too busy to appear live, delivered a taped "fireside chat" -- complete with smoking jacket, brandy snifter and televised firelog. Seconds later, questioning the usefulness of such an approach, he burst through a paper screen to continue in person.

At once embracing and lampooning the dizzying potential of new technology, organizers showcased snippets of this year's entries -- 160 films from 16 countries -- on a movable feast of venues: iPods, portable DVD players, on the chests of hulking men parading around in white T-shirts, and a 12-minute reel on multiple screens.

"It's just for fun," festival director Kathy Kay explained. "Our mandate is to look ahead and see how technology is changing."

One interesting new promotional twist this year, she noted, is an idea hatched with the help of Anonymous Advertising -- the festival's cool new commercial playing on TV, in movie theatres, on websites and on a continuous loop at Lucky last night.

"Bringing film to life is what we do," Kay said. "And part of that is getting people in our community who are part of our lives to say what film means to them and what films have brought to their lives."

There's one 60-second spot, and two 30-second and 15-second variations. The pithy promos fluidly fuse comments from film lovers including C-FAX talk show host Murray Langdon, Colwood Mayor David Saunders, musician B.J. Cook, Downtown Victoria Business Association manager Ken Kelly, lawyer Chris Considine, Monday magazine editor John Threlfall and others.

Expect three world premieres, including Victoria filmmaker Garfield Miller's The Last New Year, in which a group of 20-somethings lament the mysterious disappearance of a close friend, and The Red Jacket, Angela Bianchi's 24-minute documentary on the aftershocks of the vicious, senseless beating of Nicholas Chow Johnson in Esquimalt in 2001.

There are also three North American, nine Canadian and 14 B.C. premieres, including Michael McGowan's opening gala drama One Week, on a roster notable for a strong documentary component (12 in all) and a robust program of short films.

Feature film highlights include Stone of Destiny, Charles Martin Smith's Scottish comedy caper about students who vowed to liberate the ancient Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey in 1950; The Tiger's Tail, John Boorman's thriller starring Kim Cattrall and Brendan Gleeson; Richard Ledes's The Caller, pairing Frank Langella and Elliott Gould as a corporate whistleblower and a private eye he hires; and JCVD, which has earned rave reviews for Jean-Claude Van Damme, who plays himself.

Buzz-generating documentaries include a must-see for blues lovers, Delta Rising; Ron Mann's Know Your Mushrooms; Larry Weinstein's Inside Hana's Suitcase; and, from Australia, Richard Todd's God Made Them Blind, about the mission of Dr. John Fawcett to offer hope to the many people in Bali stricken with blindness because of poverty and malnutrition.

Also noteworthy are some films with local angles. They include Mulligans, writer-producer Charlie David's drama filmed at Prospect Lake in the summer of 2007 about a family torn apart when a father can barely contain his attraction to his son's best friend; and Robyn Lee Unwin's short What It's All About: The Life and Art of Joe Egoyan.

There was also talk of new initiatives such as Springboard, a series of talks and screenings with the spotlight on promising Canadian filmmakers chosen by a jury of established filmmakers and critics.

Other festival events include Converge on Feb. 7, when shorts will be showcased using various media in offbeat downtown venues -- Kabuki Kabs, rooftops, a tattoo parlour, alleyways, coffee shops and in parked cars.

Then there's Dinner and More Than a Movie. Presented by Painted Lips and Lolly Licks: The Sexy Film Festival, this titillating treat combines dinner at The Superior with a racy roster of flicks chosen by Lee Demarbre of Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter fame.

Sips and Cinema, the film-and-wine pairing favourite, will return, with Langford's Everything Wine complementing Artevo as a vino venue, part of the festival's migration to the West Shore.

Festival programs hit the streets today. Check them out, or visit www.victoriafilmfestival.com to purchase tickets online.